Quite often folks think that to take great wildlife photos you need to travel to exotic destinations, those far off places that are rife with wildlife, Africa, Yellowstone, Bosque del Apache, etc. Yes, these locations are sure to provide for some great subjects, but one does not necessarily need to go to these far away locations to make some great wildlife images. Besides, not many of us are lucky enough to live near some of these extraordinary locations, or can afford to make trips there as often as we like.
In this post I will provide you with what I hope will be useful information for finding wildlife closer to home. Having a few productive locations near home is one sure way to ensure you can shoot wildlife more consistently throughout the year, additionally it will allow you to get to know an area and it’s wildlife intimately.
Depending on where you live your backyard may be your most productive wildlife location. If you pay close attention to my images, you will notice that the vast majority of them are from Chatham County, NC. This is where I live, and while I am lucky to be able to travel to some great locations for wildlife, I spend the most time at home and therefore, I have many more opportunities to photograph wildlife in my backyard or near my home than anywhere else.
Like you and I, all living creatures require some basics in order to survive, these include, water, food and shelter. These three basic items are provided by their environment or habitat. These things could be naturally available, or they could be provided by human action. It make sense then that wildlife will seek out those habitats that offer as much of those three basic items as possible. I know this sounds pretty basic, and it is, but keeping this in mind will help you find areas near your home that could be rich with wildlife.
Naturally you have to know at least a basic amount of information about your target subjects in order to determine what habitats are suitable for what species. For example, you can be sure to find frogs, salamanders, newts and other amphibians in and around small ponds specially those that are too small to support fish, since fish would eat their eggs. That habitat which is favorable for amphibians may in turn be favorable for other species up the food chain who may be feed on amphibians, species such as snakes, raccoons, possums, etc. Knowing then that snakes need places to hide overnight or lay their eggs will tell you that ponds that have rocks around them that offer lots of nooks and crannies will offer prime habitat for snakes.
This information is also useful if you would like to attract certain species to your backyard. If you have a good sized backyard and happen to be near some wooded areas, you may consider landscaping specifically to attract wildlife. I am planning another article covering this topic in more detail, but you can get a lot of very useful information from the National Wildlife Federations “Certified Wildlife Habitat” website. You can find it at http://www.nwf.org/backyard/.
You could go all out and build an incredible backyard with many different native species of plants, fruit trees, install a pond, provide cover material, etc. Or if you want to keep it simple or start small, you can simply install and keep a well stocked bird feeder, bird bath, and some species appropriate bird houses. Even a little bit of work can bring in some unexpected visitors.
Beyond your backyard, chances are that there are locations very near your home that has a surprising amount of wildlife, and you don’t even know it. How do you find out about them? Well there are a number of ways.
First and easiest, is to find out about your local, state and federal parks, but also keep in mind that different state, local and federal agencies, conservation organizations (like The Nature Conservancy or local equivalents) and/or universities keep and maintain a series of open spaces or natural areas that in most cases are even more productive than those manicured parks. One reason is because these outdoor spaces are not normally manicured like parks often are, and are left to be in their natural state, another reason is that because they are not as heavily maintained, they see a significantly less number of human visitors.
Another very productive venue of information are your local bird clubs, wildlife and/or environment conservation organizations. Join these organizations, meet people and learn about some of their favorite places. Oftentimes these organizations hold nature walks, exploration meetings, or bird watching outings. All of these activities can provide you with a wealth of information on good wildlife habitat locations.
Lastly, one high tech tool that I employ is Google Maps or Google Earth. With these I can scan satellite images of the area near my home for habitats that look promising, which I then visit to inspect personally. Using this method, I have found some excellent habitat locations that have proven very productive for photography. Keep in mind that much of the imagery that google procures for their maps is taken during winter, and this is a good thing. The winter imagery gives you a better view of the ground and it’s features such as small ponds, rocky areas, marshes, etc. The reason for this is that at this time of year the deciduous trees have lost their leaves.
One word of caution, please respect property rights. Meaning, do not trespass on private property, always ask for permission. Oftentimes folks are happy to let you in once you tell them you are making wildlife images, sometimes offering to give them a few images helps the conversation along.
Once you have found promising locations, visit them and revisit them many times during different seasons, and weather conditions. Different seasons may bring different species to an area or may have different trees or flowers blooming. After some good rains, you have have some interesting mushrooms growing, or some amphibians performing their mating rituals. You just never know.
Once you learn these places well, you will know the best times to visit throughout the year and what species you are likely to find.
As always, if you have any questions or comments use the comments section below or you can reach me via twitter at http://twitter.com/jpons.